Attention Young Writers

You know who you are. You’re the kids with characters in your heads, inventing predicaments, imagining scenes. Maybe you think of yourself as a writer. Maybe you’re not that bold–yet.

Here’s an idea. Trying thinking of yourself as a storyteller. That’s what I do, and it relieves some of the pressure. I find if I focus more on telling a story and less on the writing-it-down part, the words come easier. I still write my stories on paper. I just write them the way I imagine telling my granddaughters, or a non-judgmental friend.

When I spoke to the seventh graders at Brambleton Middle School recently, I was asked a few times for my best writing advice. It’s this: just write. Tell your stories. Get them on paper without judging them. You can go back and edit and smooth over the grammar and the spelling. Try not to edit as you go–just go, GO, while the story tells itself to you.

That’s the whole idea behind National Novel Writing Month. Why not check out the Young Writers Program? It’s free and offers writing challenges year-round, but November is the month writers of all ages are encouraged to crank out a novel in 30 days.

Tempting, isn’t it?

Teachers: Check out the resources available to help you encourage the storytellers among you. Yours is a sacred calling!

The Kids Are Alright

I spent two days this past week with seventh graders at Brambleton Middle School in Ashburn, Virginia, and I came away exhausted and exhilarated. Their teachers are applying the “Five Cs”—Communication, Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, and Contribution—across the curriculum (how brilliant is that?) and had invited me to explain how they relate to my process for creating picture books. 

Over the course of the two days, I spoke with about 500 students in 7 assemblies. My goal was to encourage them to fire up their creativity and see themselves as storytellers. I took them behind the scenes and between the pages of my first two picture books and gave them a few simple tips to help them with their fiction writing assignments. They were engaged and curious. They had far more questions than I had time to respond, and those questions were intelligent and insightful. They offered observations about my books that were entirely new to me. I’m pretty sure I learned at least as much from them as they did from me.

When I first decided to put my stories on the page, I wasn’t thinking about visiting schools and libraries. Now I realize that spending time talking about stories with young people is the very best part. 

One seventh grader wanted to know what was next. Another asked if I had ever considered writing for older kids. (The answer is yes.) A handful of kids brought me torn slips of paper and asked for my autograph. But the most memorable of many memorable moments came from the boy who introduced himself after one of the sessions and explained that he was an artist. “I’d like to work with you,” he said. “Do you think I could illustrate one of your books?”

I’d better get busy writing.